After a spectacular, months-long campaign to discredit her mother, her sister, and Uzbekistan’s secret police boss, the elder daughter of Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov went silent in mid-February. Reports that Gulnara Karimova has been held against her will could not be independently confirmed, but she’s been unavailable for comment as prosecutors in two European countries have named her as a suspect in corruption investigations.
Now the BBC says it has received a letter that appears to be from Karimova. In it, the author claims she is under house arrest in Tashkent and has been beaten by men working for her notoriously brutal father.
"I am under severe psychological pressure, I have been beaten, you can count bruises on my arms," reads the letter, apparently smuggled out, which the BBC reproduced in part on March 24. "How naive I was to think that the rule of law exists in the country.”
A graphologist specializing in Cyrillic handwriting told the BBC that there is a 75 percent chance the unsigned letter was written by the scandal-plagued Karimova, Uzbekistan’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who describes herself on her website as a “poet, mezzo soprano, designer and exotic Uzbekistan beauty.”
"I never thought this could happen in a civilized, developing nation that Uzbekistan portrays itself as," the letter says, complaining of "Pinochet-style persecution."
“But a closer look showed me all the ugliness of what goes on here, and listening to people whom I would argue with before, I realize that all of it has been happening for a long time.”
As the former public face of her father’s regime, Karimova is unlikely to elicit much sympathy. But as allegations mount that she is indeed being held against her will, they show the lengths to which Karimov will go to silence dissent.
Karimova returned to Uzbekistan after losing her position as the country’s UN envoy in Geneva last July. Within the last few weeks, investigators in both Switzerland and – as of March 24 – Sweden, have publicly named Karimova a suspect in ongoing corruption probes.
Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera paid about $330 million to an offshore front company controlled by a Karimova associate in exchange for an operating license in Uzbekistan. Switzerland has frozen over $900 million as part of its inquiry.
Dutch and American authorities are also investigating. TeliaSonera denies wrongdoing and has fired a number of senior officials.
"In the investigation there is now a concrete basis, including information on control over assets, which gives reason to suspect that Gulnara Karimova, who also served as a public official during the time period relevant for the case, was the one who orchestrated, controlled, and also was the one who primarily benefited from the procedure," Swedish prosecutors said in comments carried by Reuters on March 24.